Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Carrots for Mental Health

Recently, my son had a bout with depression and anxiety. While we spent many hours with professionals, I thought of something we could do at home to take his mind off of things. I had him plant a mental health plant.

To do this, I showed him our collection of vegetable seeds and let him pick one. He picked carrots.

Taking a red solo cup and poking holes in the bottom, we filled it up with mix and he put the seeds in. He's been taking very good care and watering it every three days. Now it's time to transplant.

The picture above shows the plants ready to go, with a beer-bottle filled with a B1 mix to prevent transplant shock.

Now in the whiskey barrel, we'll see how these carrots do.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 25, 2015

Nothing but Net

It's getting to the time where the grapes are getting too tempting to the local wildlife. We found a squirrel trying to get the the fruit just this morning.

If you follow this blog, you know that this is an ongoing problem each year.  We tried netting the entire plant but this just constricted the plant too much and we didn't get any grapes. Last year, we tried using holographic tape and was able to get about half a crop, the other was devoured by critters, so I guess it worked somewhat.

It also gave my wife something to take a picture of.

There's still some tape on the plant but this year, I'm taking the extra step of netting individual bunches.  We've been saving the nets that the fruits and vegetables come in from the store.

My plan is to put a net around each bunch, letting then breathe and get sunshine but providing a barrier for the animals.

I was able to net up eight bunches, about a third, before I ran out.  We'll see soon how well this works.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Battling at the Barricades

This is our plumeria. It's a beauty. In fact, we've caught strangers coming up and plucking bunches off for their bouquets. It has nothing to do with this post, just thought I post something nice to mitigate the ugliness that's below.

After 20 years, gophers have finally found my lawn. Strange, because it's surrounded by pavement and concrete, which should have kept them out. I'm guessing they got desperate since my nextdoor neighbor stopped watering her lawn and they must have struck out from there. Since the first hole showed up at the edge of the lawn closest to hers, that's my working theory.

Not too long after I first noticed the mounds, a dead gopher showed up on our driveway. I figured the local cats got it and left it as a trophy. Our lizards and other scavengers took care of the body before I got a chance to dispose of it.

I'd hoped this took care of the problem but more mounds appeared a few days later. It was obvious that they were headed across the lawn and to my garden. I had to take action before they decimated it.

There comes a time in every serious gardener's life where deadly action is necessary. It's either our garden or them. You can try as hard as you can to dissuade them but not all of those pests will take the hint.

So, finding the freshest mound, I put a garden hose in and turned on the water. About two minutes later, the soaked rodent popped out.

I dispatched him with a hoe.  I'll spare you the gory details and photo.

In other lawn news, I've planted feverfew in the deer buffet rose garden to deter pests of an insect nature.  They do seem to keep the aphids, mealybugs, and the like away (the deer are immune, though) but they tend to get out of hand once in awhile.

Before mowing, I rip off the longest bunches and throw on the lawn to be sucked up by the mower.

Once mowed, I've got the gopher holes flattened...

...and the deer buffet rose garden has it's feverfew back under control.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From the Land of Free Flowing Water least for this weekend.  We've got a late season storm to help ease our parched land. In fact, so far May is the wettest month of the season. An inch and a half of rain means we can turn off the timers for a few days and enjoy nature's complimentary wetness.

This tomato likes it. It's overflowed its cage but still no flowers. But wait, what is that?

That's right, there are some buds hidden below. Fruit is on its way.

Same with this hanging basket of cherry tomatoes.

This heirloom tomato is not growing as fast but is still looking good.

Zucchini is blooming, too. It should be the first producer.

Our hot red chili plant is also showing flowers.

So far, it's looking good.

The grape vine has many bunches of grapes like this.

Every now and then, though, I see a weakling like this one on the left.

Pluck...and it's gone. We want to channel the plant's strength to the best clusters.

It is just about time to put my little net bags on this fruit to protect it until harvest.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

To Lawn or Not to Lawn...That is Today's Question

Before reading this, you may want to check out the posts leading up to this finale of our Earth Week series...

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

It's been portrayed as our patriotic duty. Much like Liberty Gardens or food rationing in World War II, we Californians are being told lawns are passe and we need to let them die to be good water users.

Funny thing is, we've been conserving water for years and still use a lot less than people around us. Now, partly because they couldn't be bothered to cut back, we have to cut even deeper and all eyes are on that semi-green patch in front of the house.

Part of me says, fine. Let it go.  You won't have to mow it anymore.  The other part of me says it'll be dusty, ugly, and the grass has other benefits besides looking nice and creating a soft place to step.

So what are the benefits of a lawn?  It creates habitat for bugs which feed the birds. It filters water going back to the aquifer. It keeps the dust down. It creates oxygen. It has a cooling effect on the air. It improves the value of a property.

What are the drawbacks? It takes water. In our case, about 10% of our monthly water. You have to mow it regularly. You have to do other maintenance such as feeding and de-thatching.

Now, looking at the pros and cons, what do I do?  

When a lawn goes dormant, such as in the cold of winter back east or the scorching heat of summer out here in the west, it doesn't really die and will sprout readily when fall rains come again.

I've cut back to where I still comfortably land in the water use guidelines and regulations to our state so I think I will continue until the lawn browns on its own when the summer heat gets too much for it. At that point, I will cut it off and wait for a wetter winter and fall to see how it comes back.

Sure beat mowing it every weekend this summer.

I hope you've enjoyed our Earth Week series and that it's helped you to be water-wise in your own gardening. Next time, it's back to our little patch of urban garden, our follies, and triumphs.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Drought Comes Home

We continue our exploration of the effect of the California drought for Earth Week. See our first, second, and third parts at the links.

As we've wound our way from the macro issues of California's drought, through the biggest uses, and tips to meet the mandated cuts in use, it's time to get to the nitty does this impact our little garden out back?

My frequent readers should already know this is not my first trip to the drought rodeo. We've had several droughts since I remember my first severe drought around 1970.  I've always sought to get as much as I can with as little water as possible.

If a plant can't hack it with the little water I supply, it won't be invited back to be a member of the Cheapskate's garden. This has been my policy for many years so what is growing here, my little family of over 100 plants, have proven their non-thirsty ways.

Roses do very well here. Suprisingly (to me anyway), the very tropical plumeria plant is a true water miser and grows spectacularly here with just a glassful a day. Grapes are well known drought tolerators, especially red varieties, and orchids...with their water storing psuedobulbs..only need a good watering once or twice a week.

As I've outlined in our Poor Man's Sprinkler System post, I've installed a drip irrigation (and microsprinkler) system for our non-lawn plants. With the help of a two-station timer, I've honed the watering schedule to just the bare minimum these plants need to thrive.

From 5 minutes every three days in the dead of winter for our shady zone to 15 minutes a day for the hot, sunny zone in the summer, trial and error has given us the data we need to keep our water usage low while keeping the flowers, vegetables, and fruit production as high as we can get.

It's also good to have a bellwhether plant. For us, it's our guava tree.  When it starts to shrivel, I know I need to add water.  While still a pretty drought tolerant plant that provides pounds of edible fruit, it's also the thirstiest tree we have. Being the first to show signs of stress, it's a great indicator as to whether the rest of the garden is getting enough water or not.

Another non-expected aspect of the drought is all the wild animals coming down from the mountains behind our house. Last year, they devistated our crop-producing plants, highly effecting our harvests.

This year, we're doing our best to discourage those unwanted diners by caging our plants, hanging them up, or netting the fruit.  While those results are still pending, I'm confident this year will bring more of a harvest than the last.

The rain will come again but in the meantime, we've learned to live quite well with it and reducing our usage to the bare minimum while we do.

There's one big area left for us to take a close look at. Next time, we'll examine the lawn and what we can do about that big water sponge out front.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Our Long Drought: Making Every Drop Count

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Andrew Vargas under CC BY 2.0 license

In parts one and two, we looked at facts vs. myths in the big picture of the drought and analyzed where savings could be found. This time, we'll look at the ways urban (residential and industrial users) users can achieve that magical 25% cut in their water.

First, though, we must look at the fairness of this.

Not everyone in California has been letting the water run like there's no tomorrow. We've had droughts before and many, many long time residents have taken that to heart and cut their water use a long time ago. When we first moved into our house, we showed the sewer district that our water was at least 20% less than the average for our area and got a discount on our fees. We've lessened our water use by 30-50% depending on the time of the years for the last five years.

Now, us, and people like us are being asked to cut another 25%...same as the big water wasters. There's some big debates going on about the fairness of Governor Brown's mandatory cuts.

In the meantime, here are some things people can do to cut their water use...

Install a shut-off valve in the shower - Get wet, turn off the water, soap up, turn it back on to rinse to save a few gallons each time you wash.

Install a low flow toilet - The overwhelming majority of Californians already have one. You can also put a few bricks in the water tank for displacement so that not as much water is needed to shut off the valve.

Install drip irrigation and timers - This is easy to do and inexpensive. It also has the added benefit of freeing up some time when you no longer have to water the plants manually. See our "Poor Man's Sprinkler System' for more details.

Sweep - Don't hose down pavement.

Cut back on car washes - It's not a good thing to never wash your car but lessen the frequency and use a car wash that recycles water or use a hose with a trigger sprayer that you can turn off between soaping up and rinsing in your driveway.

Cut water runoff - adjust your sprinkler spray patterns so that you're only watering the plants...not the sidewalk and street.

Let it mellow - An old saying from our 70's drought, "if it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down." Don't flush the toilet so much.

Turn it off - turn off the water while brushing teeth and shaving until you need to rinse.

Look for drought tolerant and low-water plants - your nursery can help you get plants that don't need too much water, like my roses that hardly take any at all or a grapevine (we'll delve into this in more detail in a future post).

Those are a few, got any more you'd like to add? Leave them in the comments below or at our Facebook page - The Cheapskate Urban Gardener. We'll add the best ones here.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved